Well, we’re a month away from the SWP’s Marxism 2005 at which the party faithful will be entertained by Gilad Atzmon, a jazz saxophonist who believes that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion accurately describe the reality of ‘jewish power’ and who privately circulates material which urges holocaust denial. Readers of this blog, and of Lenin’s Tomb and Dead Men Left will remember that grass roots members of the SWP were horrified at Atzmon’s invitation to last year’s conference. Lenin described Atzmon’s website as “stomach-churning bullshit”.
By way of contrast, the invitation of Atzmon to Marxism 2005 has, provoked a certain degree of embarrassed shuffling, throat clearing, and gazing at shoes from SWP rank and file. The excuses for Atzmon currently being deployed by them include the following:
(a) Meader’s suggestion that “Atzmon is not speaking at Marxism this year, merely playing a sax”
Atzmon is listed as a speaker by the SWP. However, I suppose that it is possible that the SWP have gagged Atzmon, fearful of the sort of “stomach churning bullshit” he might otherwise serve up.
In any case, as far as Atzmon is concerned, playing jazz is “to say what I believe in“. And Atzmon believes lots of interesting things, including that “Jews who get angry when blamed for killing Jesus are those who identify themselves with Jesus’s killers. Those who would commit this murderous act today”
(b) JohnG, an SWP activist and academic, suggests that the SWP has invited Atzmon to their conference merely to criticise his views.
All that is wrong with Atzmon’s views, as far JohnG is concerned, is that he mistakenly thinks that jews are running America: whereas the JohnG believes that although jews influence US foreign policy, they don’t direct it.
When I was a lad, the SWP used to fight racism by actually going out looking for racists to fight. Nowadays, apparently, they simply invite them over for a ruck. Or a debate.
Exactly how Atzmon is to be opposed by angry SWP members if all he is to do is to blow his sax is not clear. Perhaps SWPers will be invited to engage in a critical jam session with him.
JohnG has also laboured to produce a theoretical approach to Atzmon’s writing which illustrates that his racist rhetoric and arguments are not in fact racist. JohnG’s argument – drawn from his reading of Arendt – is that Atzmon’s real target is a “lachrimose” jewish history which focusses upon racism and persecution, and ignores the fact that “most of the time they had considerably more power then most of the gentile population“. Atzmon’s use of classically racist themes is therefore no more than an attempt to “lampoon” misplaced self pity of a powerful social group. JohnG is prepared to admit that Atzmon’s use of racist themes and language “is hardly helpful“… but only, of course, “in the sense that it leads to endless and absurd discussions like this on Harry’s Place”
JohnG concludes that it would be wrong for the the party which invented the No Platform for Racists policy “to deny a platform to an opponent of what is being done to the Palestinians on the basis of criticisms from people who think that criticising what is being done to the Palestinians is anti-semitic”
(cf the SWP’s Lindsay German on homophobia: “Now I’m in favour of defending gay rights, but I am not prepared to have it as a shibboleth, [created by] people who … won’t defend George Galloway, and who regard the state of Israel as somehow a viable presence, justified in occupying Palestinian territories”.)
The most interesting part of the debate surrounding Atzmon at the moment focuses upon his strange view that people who declare their rejection of Zionism while also mentioning their secular jewish identity are “undercover Zionist agents“. His argument seems to be – as far as I can make it out – that merely to identify as jewish makes Zionism an inevitablility, and that even secular anti-Zionist jews (who identify as jews) will always slide into Zionism because that is the inevitable end point of any jewish identity.
JohnG’s take on this thesis is that Atzmon is wrong, but not a racist. Ironically, he also thinks Atzmon is a jew – his only alibi for his apparent racism – which is the one think Atzmon doesn’t want people to think he is!
Few other commentators are as generous to Atzmon. Many correctly identify, in the increasingly extreme language and arguments deployed by Atzmon, the influence of the acknowledged Russian-Israeli-Danish racist, “Israel Shamir”. It was Atzmon’s praise and defence of Shamir in an article which directed racist abuse at a number of jewish anti-Zionists, which caused Sue Blackwell to cut her links to Atzmon.
Mark Elf, on his anti-Zionist blog Jews Sans Frontieres says:
Gilad Atzmon, takes the view that if you do not renounce being Jewish then you are a crypto- or under-cover zionist. He … started in what many believed was the naive school of inadvertent anti-semitism, but his denunciations of anti-zionist Jews, like Roland Rance and Tony Greenstein, make this position untenable…..
Meanwhile some clumsy clot at the SWP seems to have copied and pasted from last year’s invitations to Marxism 2004 and invited Gilad Atzmon to Marxism 2005. I remember a handful of SWP members commenting here that it was a mistake and that he was a disgrace. I hope the organisers spot this and rescind the invite and soon.
Stephen Marks – one of the targets of Atzmon’s bile – is similarly unconvinced by Atzmon’s theses, and the SWP’s excusing of his racism:
“Politically, an antisemite is someone who defends and propagates classically antisemitic stereotypes and themes such as the ‘protocols’, the blood libel and holocaust denial. It is irrelevant whether the motive is ‘genuine’ antisemitism or ‘merely’ a desire to shock, for whatever ‘understandable’ reason….
Atzmon has lately taken to circulating with approval to certain people who have coresponded with him [not including me!] an article from Shamir’s website which endorses holocaust denial, and urges the Palestinians to employ it as a weapon against Israel.”
Marks then goes on to recall the strong opposition of arab intellectuals to the propagation of holocaust denial and promotion of racism against jews. He argues the SWP legitimates Atzmon’s racist views by treating them as worthy of debate at their Conference:
“I dont know why the SWP bother to waste so much time and effort organising Marxism 2005. They could achieve the same result much more simply by just going to Edward Said’s grave and pissing on it.”
Atzmon’s own view, for the record, is that he is not a racist. In private emails to some of his critics, he has explained why:
For more than a while i argue that there is no ‘Anti-Semitism’ at least not after 1948. My argument is very simple, If anti-semitism is a blind hatred towards Jewish people, then it should be realised as a private case of xenophobia. If on the other hand, it is totally rational (a rational reaction towards the Israeli atrocities that are done in the name of the Jewish people), then acts against Jews and Jewish interests should be realised in terms of political retaliation. I would insist to mention that political retaliation is yet to be a discourse of justification. A murder can be rational but it doesn’t make it right!
Anyhow, following this line of thinking I argue that the discourse of anti-Semitism is in itself a Zionist discourse that is there to serve Zionism and Israeli interests. I am sorry to admit that many good people are still locked within this discourse, many of them in the left.
It looks as if the SWP has finally freed itself from this “discourse”, doesn’t it?
Well done SWP!